Government quietly changes law to give councils lockdown powers until July 17 this year

Christopher Hope
·3-min read

The Government has quietly extended lockdown laws to give councils the power to close pubs, restaurants, shops and public spaces until July 17 this year.

The news will be a major setback for those hoping that life might have returned to normal by early summer once more people are vaccinated against coronavirus.

It comes after Boris Johnson admitted late last week that "it's too early to say when we'll be able to lift some of the restrictions".

The Government had pledged to review the lockdown measures in the middle of next month.

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The changes to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No.3) Regulations 2020 were made as part of a review of the third lockdown by Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, earlier this month.

This law (originally introduced on July 18 last year) allows a local authority to close or limit access to premises or outdoor spaces in its area to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including stopping events.

The regulation, which applies to England only, was due to expire last week but has now been extended until July 17, around the date when school summer holidays begin, as part of a slew of other measures.

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Coronavirus Recovery Group of Tory MPs which is campaigning against unnecessary restrictions, said: “The extension of councils’ Covid powers until July will be of great concern to those worried about their jobs and businesses.

“Given the limited time allowed for debate this change in the law was little noticed.

“Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected by March 8, assuming the Government hits the February 15 deadline, the Government must start easing the restrictions.

“Vaccinations will of course bring immunity from Covid, but they must bring immunity from lockdowns and restrictions too.”

Another £4.6bn of support to help businesses through latest lockdown
Another £4.6bn of support to help businesses through latest lockdown

Tory MP Sir Charles Walker questioned why the powers needed to be extended until mid-July when the hope was an earlier release of social distancing restrictions.

He said: "To start talking about opening days in July will cause many great concern.

“The hope has to be that with the successful rollout of the vaccine, this summer date is only provisional with a spring opening being the preferred option.”

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, added: "It is surprising that they have been extended for so long when it remains uncertain what restrictions will be in place, and given that the large proportion of the population will be vaccinated by then."

A Department of Health source pointed out that MPs had voted for these national restrictions earlier this month.

The source said: “The regulations that encompass the measures – including local authority powers – automatically expire after six months.

“As we are currently in a national lockdown it was necessary to renew the regulations, which means they are automatically extended for another six months.

"However, these measures are still subject to the statuary review point.”

Mr Hancock said last week that for restrictions to be eased, deaths and hospital numbers had to be coming down, while the vaccine programme has to work, and there has to be no new threat from a new variant of Covid-19.

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